Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(3)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(3)
Author: J.R. Ward

She had no idea how this was going to go.

“Will you excuse us?” she said to Rhage and John Matthew.

The Brother shook his head. “We’re not leaving you.”

“I appreciate your concern, Rhage, but patient confidentiality is an issue here. If you don’t mind, maybe you could wait down by the office?” She pointed over there even though they knew perfectly well where it was. “This really needs to be a private conversation.”

She knew better than to order any of the Brotherhood or the fighters off the kind of duty Rhage and John Matthew felt they were doing here. To them, she was Vishous’s shellan, and as such, her advanced degrees and recent karate training didn’t mean diddly: Even though the twins and their kin had proven loyal to the King and they had never shown any untoward behavior around her, they were still unattached males near a bonded Brother’s female.

So she was going to be guarded like she was in a wet T-shirt and a pair of stripper heels.

It was ridiculous, but going Gloria Steinem on the situation was just going to delay things. Putting the very real privacy concern on the table, however, was going to get the job done. And it did.

“We’ll just be right there,” Rhage muttered. “Right over there. Like, no distance at all.”

“Thank you.”

When they were out of earshot, she said to the twins, “Would you like to talk in my—”

“Here is good,” Ehric said in his thick, Old Country accent. “How is he?”

“Not very well, and I don’t think we’re gaining any traction with Assail’s recovery.” She crossed her arms over her chest and then dropped them because she didn’t want to come across as hiding anything or being defensive. “His neurological functions are compromised and they are not improving. I’ve spoken with Havers and shared with him all of the scans as well as video of the behaviors and affects, including the change that happened about a week ago. With the onset of the catatonic state, he is less of a danger to himself and others, but that is a far distance from responsive—”

“Is it time to put him down.”

Doc Jane blinked. When she’d made the transition from human surgeon to vampire healer, there had been all kinds of things to get used to. There was new anatomy to learn, new drug reactions and side effects to be aware of, a completely different circulatory system, as well as hormonal and pregnancy issues she had never seen before.

She’d also had to adjust to the race’s end-of-life decisions. In the human world, sustaining life was the imperative, even when there was no quality to it. Assisted suicide remained an ethical decision to be debated, with only seven states allowing it within prescribed parameters. With vampires? It was a matter of course.

When a loved one was suffering, and there was no chance of that improving, terminal aid was rendered. Still, they were not talking about a cherished pet that had come to the end of its life cycle here.

She chose her words with care, wanting to be honest without advocating for any specific outcome. “Based on everything I have seen and all the tests we have run, I do not believe there is going to be a resumption of normalcy. We have done everything we can to support his systems in his cocaine withdrawal, but after the psychosis hit, we just…we’ve lost him and we can’t seem to get him back.”

In every way that counted, she was uncomfortable leaving this decision in the hands of Assail’s cousins. It would be easier to trust whatever choice was made if they were upset. Troubled by conscience. Worried over whether they were doing the right thing.

With their dispositions? She had a concern that they would throw out her patient like a broken toaster. And yet, according to the vampire standard of care, she was duty bound to offer them, as next of kin, the option to terminate Assail’s life now that the course of his care had reached this point of no return.

Havers, the race’s healer, had been the one to bring the issue up to her, and her instinct had been to fight it—but that was a holdover from her human days. She did, however, continue to find it a potential contradiction to the spiritual lexicon of the species. In the vampire version of the afterlife, there was a belief that you couldn’t enter the Fade, or what they considered Heaven, if you committed suicide. That being said, if you were lingering, and especially if you were incapable of deciding for yourself, your closest family could ease your suffering in a way that apparently got you around that provision, a loved-one loophole, as it were.

The reconciliation was evidently in the free will. If you pulled the trigger, that was suicide. If someone you loved said enough’s enough? That was destiny.

Yet it was a slippery slope, especially if your next of kin was maybe angry about what you’d done to them over the holidays. Or pissed off that you’d borrowed money and hadn’t paid back the loan. Or morally deficient—which was what she worried about here.

Still, Ehric and Evale had seemed to stick by their cousin, coming to see Assail regularly, receiving her updates, calling her back immediately. That had to mean something. Right?

Besides, in her heart, she knew that Assail had suffered enough. He had walked in here to detox from his drug addiction, and months later, after a roller coaster of self-harm, hallucinations, screaming paranoia, and violent outbursts, he had been reduced to nothing more than a pulse and some respiration.

“I’m very sorry.” She looked back and forth between the mirror images of face and body. “I wish I had better news.”

“I want to see him,” Ehric said.

“Of course.”

She reached for the door and hesitated. “He’s still restrained. And I had to—well, you remember that we needed to shave his head. It was for his own well-being.”

As she opened things wide for them, she searched their expressions, praying she saw something that eased her own conscience, that assured her this very serious decision was in the right hands…that their hearts were somehow involved.

The twins stared straight ahead, only their eyes moving around, their heads staying static. They did not blink. Twitch. Breathe.

Doc Jane glanced at her patient and felt a crushing sorrow. Even though her mind told her she had done everything she could, her heart regarded this outcome as a failure she was responsible for. “I am so very sorry.”

After a long moment, Ehric said in a flat tone, “We will do what is necessary.”



From behind the wheel of the rental car, Vitoria Benloise was impatient. So long, all this travel. So long to come to this northern state in America. Such an inefficiency to transfer her physicality from where she had been to where she needed to be.

At least the transition was over.

Up ahead, her destination appeared as an island rising up from the vast midst of the sea, the great house sitting upon its rise, a showy declaration of wealth that due to its age was “venerable” as opposed to “ostentatious.”

Her brother Ricardo would have had his manse no other way. Having come from little, he had sought validation through a persistent illusion of false aristocracy and old money. No new house for him. No flashy cars. No Eurotrash ostentation.

Which she believed was what the Americans called it.

Even in his legitimate business, the one that had been but a shell for his true revenue streams, he’d had to have an art gallery. Not a construction business, no, no. Not garbage removal or cement mixing. It had to be the art.

Contemporary sculpture and painting, from what she understood, and she could guess why the exception to his preference for the aged. It was so much easier to launder money with the sale of modern offerings, as their value was more subjective than that of Old Masters and Impressionists, which had more provable prices.

The drive into Ricardo’s property was a left-hand turn off this road by the big river, and she traveled up the gradual, plowed lane, taking note of the snow-covered lawn, the short stone wall holding back the tree line, the looming grand house. The mansion was larger than it appeared from down below, and as she closed in and parked by its front entry’s walkway, she felt the modernist sculptures around the manse sit in judgment and disapproval of her.

It was her brother in her head. Her family, in her conscience. Her traditions, in her soul.

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